Wearables Authors: Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Shelly Palmer, Yeshim Deniz, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: @ThingsExpo, Java IoT, Agile Computing, Wearables, @CloudExpo, @BigDataExpo

@ThingsExpo: Article

[video] @CHarrold303 Is Building a Personal #IoT | @ThingsExpo #M2M #AI

The birth of an IoT DIY project from beginning to finish

About 6 months ago I had this "brilliant" idea that I would like to monitor the water level of my plants living on my balcony. The goal was to keep them healthy and happy (and producing vegetables for me in my urban garden). After looking for a commercial solution to aid me in this project, I discovered that there wasn't anything out there that would do what I need. The primary reason why nothing worked for me was that none of the products out there are capable of monitoring multiple plants at once, leaving me with the need to buy multiple units. At 10-15 containers for plants, this was immediately recognized as unrealistic, due to their high individual cost. Being the enterprising person I am, my immediate thought was, "I will just build one! How hard can it be?"

Six months have passed and I am starting to grasp the reality of it. It isn't hard, in the sense that I am not treading lots of new ground and making a lot of things up from scratch. It is definitely not simple either. I have a working prototype of a single instance of a soil moisture sensor, temperature and humidity sensor, and a light level sensor in a "sensor pack." Emphasis being on "prototype" and "single." It has taken me 6 months of time to buy, assemble, trial, error, and otherwise jigger around with bits and wires to get a working prototype that is extremely fragile and not at all ready for commercial use. Now to be fair, I have a full-ime job so I didn't do this all day every day; however, I did spend serious late night hours on it, and it was not a trivial time or monetary investment (still cheaper than the commercial option though). The net outcome is that at achieving phase 1 completion, I have a working prototype. I can monitor a single plant, indoors, relatively close to a power outlet, and with a bunch of wires and bits and bobs all over that wiggle loose if you look at them too hard; and that's kind of the big problem. Not all IoT projects are supposed to be indoors with "plug-in" power supplies and exposed wires; it just isn't feasible. The reality of "build it yourself" IoT is that unless you already like technology and making things, and don't mind that charming "cobbled together industrial mess" aesthetic, it is incredibly unlikely you would ever really get into it. If you do, it is like running a race where the finish line moves every time you reach it. I intend to continue on, but if you are considering your own IoT initiative you should know what you are signing up for up front!

Next Steps
To realize the vision for my original ideas on this project, I need things that are well outside my comfort zone and skill level. For example, I need to build something that is waterproof, contains my sensor package and a functional computer, and is more or less untouched by the changing weather outside. At that point, breadboards and wires won't cut it if I want to actually use this system outdoors. I need to effectively build the infrastructure for my own infrastructure project. A short list of what I need to do next looks like this:

  • First and most simple, I need to make or find something that can be a good housing for my package of sensors that allows them to work outdoors while protecting them at the same time. It has to be waterproof, with a clear spot for the light sensor and needs some sort of grate for the temperature and humidity probe to work right. The housing should be able to fit in some sort of processor as well (I am thinking of a Pi 0 for size reasons, or Arduino for power reasons) to run the code, so I can collect and deliver sensor readings to the central hub. Then I have to have one of these per container on my balcony (right now that would be 10). So while I can one-off make all of them, Ideally I want to find something more scalable and affordable since I am thinking about the "production ready" aspects of the project. *(See footnotes)
  • It has to be able to run on a battery and/ (preferably) solar power - this is VERY non-trivial. Everything in an IoT devices consumes power. Everything, including the wires and connections themselves have an impact on the amount of power needed to run the device. You can do lots of things, like "sleep modes" and power saving tricks and etc..., but the Raspberry Pi (by itself, no sensors) needs 5V just to boot up. I have seen a number of "Pi on Battery" projects and a Pi on solar or two so it can be done, but again, this is a pretty big part of "consumerization" - Solar is a nice way to go since I can somewhat assume light (plants), and changing batteries is both annoying and anti-environmental so solar is a good balance.****
  • I will have to find a source to build custom PCB boards** (that's the green boards with the wires and connections embedded in them) so that I can solder my sensors in place to keep them from moving around. It will have to fit into the above housing, and provide all the connections I need for power, the CPU, and the sensors themselves.
  • I really want to find some sort of Bluetooth LE or other wireless means to connect the sensor packs into a central collection system.*** This is yet another process I have never done before and will have to learn about in order to work with the wireless transmission method I end up choosing.
  • In order to really be considered a success, and production ready, I will need to duplicate my sensor pack 10 times - one for each plant. To be fair I could consolidate and JUST do the soil moisture at each plant, and take temp, humidity and light levels at a central spot, but I am thinking of "consumerization" of the finished product. What if the end user has a big yard or multiple "eco systems" such as deep shade, a greenhouse or different plant types? There are too many variations, even from pot to pot on my small patio, that having the ability to do temperature and humidity alongside the soil moisture monitoring is ultimately the most useful for a consumerized product.
  • I will have to get a soldering iron and spend some time practicing in order to solder well. This isn't as trivial as it sounds. Soldering mistakes on my custom-made PCB board could get expensive in a hurry, and the connections have to be good or my device will fail in the field and that means my consumer has to deal with a bad device. This can be outsourced of course, and in a full commercial project can be handled in manufacturing, but that is a cost that I have no ability to bear in my DIY project scope.

Ultimately the end game for any device is that I will want to operationalize my prototype into something more consumer friendly for someone with potentially limited skill and technical know-how. The benefit to me for my little project is that the end product becomes something I don't have to babysit every day, but something I can turn on and forget until it reminds me it is there.

Considering all the needs and desires for my own little "baby" IoT project, I realized I will have to perform electrical engineering, industrial and interface design, consumer focus testing, and assembly and testing.

No big deal, right?

At this point it hit me why the whole concept of the IoT is both amazing in its potential to be something incredible and something incredibly destructive. You'll notice that I footnoted a couple of points above, relating to things I genuinely don't know how to do (yet). There are resources out there for a lot of those things, maybe even all of it. The best part about our modern world is that you are very rarely the first to experiment with something. There is usually a life line out there, unless you are performing bleeding edge innovation. This is why there is so much potential in IoT. You are taking work done by others and enhancing, improving, or simply modifying it to match your need. This is the heart of the open source movement and IoT is no different. Nothing really starts at "zero" and you don't have to figure out every single detail. I didn't have to build the sensors themselves. I certainly didn't design the Raspberry Pi, or create a language to use to talk to the sensors. I am using things already discovered in a new(ish) way for my specific project. That is an amazing thing to be able to do, and more importantly it means that innovation in IoT can happen sometimes frighteningly fast.

This ability to innovate at high speed also means that there is an incredibly destructive force in IoT. We saw some of it in the Fall with the attacks from the Mirai botnet being used to take down Dyn DNS hosting and causing major Internet issues. If you attach something to the internet you create the risk that it can be used maliciously. My own IoT project is definitely not hardened; I have all default passwords on everything, because it is faster and easier when I am constantly changing code and troubleshooting if I don't have to type in a 14 character password with symbols and numbers. I recognize the risk, but I am not connecting outside my own LAN so the risk is contained. A commercial product that needs to relay information off a central server or website is just a bullseye in the ether for hackers looking for things to compromise to get at data.

As I went through this project, it was easy for me to see why defaults work their way into commercial IoT devices so easily; no one wants to have to hassle with multi-factor security or cumbersome passwords during the prototype phase when things are constantly changing. Unfortunately I know the demands to get things "out the door" all too well and in that rush is when defaults, bad code, and "it's working, ship it" intersect is when bad security happens. This is where consumer design and security clash, and IoT is one of those rare places that we are collectively going to need to get right, because the stakes are getting really high. In my case, my plants might not get watered if my rig is compromised. No big deal for me, I will hand water them again, but if it is my car, my fire and smoke alarm, my medical equipment, the controls for my elevator, or any number of other things that are connected to the Internet, we could be talking about serious or even life threatening risks.

I am generally pro IoT and innovation, and I do not want this blog to read like a contrarian piece since that's not how I feel about IoT. Instead I meant it to illustrate two things; the first one is that undeniably IoT is important, becoming more and more a part of our daily lives. With that great power comes an even greater responsibility to ensure security and safety is a part of the design, not an afterthought.

The second is that IoT is not a simple exercise in "connecting things together" and linking it to the Internet. The amount of knowledge and skills required to make a true commercial IoT device functional and successful is a legitimate challenge. The barriers to entry are high, even for someone like me that enjoys learning and discovering and has decent technical background.

Can we accelerate the ability of IoT technologies, but keep it engaging and approachable without making them so simplistic and unsafe, that we create a new army of devices that wield increasing power over our daily lives? I truly believe we can, and I hope that in a small way my own IoT project is one of many small bridges leading to plan to figuring out the how of the technology, so that others will take my work and make it that much better.

Watch out for the next part of this blog Do It Yourself IoT blog series. As we go forward I will keep updating and sharing my learnings as I move into phase 2 and try to make my vision come to life. The video for the final prototype is over on YouTube, here.


* - I toyed with "MacGuyvering" the housing out of things like outdoor electrical boxes and such, but then I also started investigating things like 3D printing options which could allow me to print a case that fits my package of sensors and connections perfectly because it is built for it. If I wanted to get really serious about it and sell them, I could invest in my own printer; for 4-500$ you can get a simple but reliable 3d printer that would do what I needed. As I was researching I also found options for "on demand" 3d printing services too. A great resource list is here: https://all3dp.com/best-online-3d-printing-service/

** - I have zero experience designing PCB boards. I have some EE friends, but I want to learn on my own for the full experience. In doing some research I found a number of places that will "print" you a PCB that you design, and a couple even have an online tool for designing the PCB itself. I am using EasyEDA (https://easyeda.com/) which has a nice library of user-submitted designs and "templates" that help a total n00b like me get started. (I could, were I so inclined, go so far as to print my own Raspberry Pi motherboard in effect and truly slim down my design, but that seems like a LOT of extra work for a "fun" project, but it could be done - just not by me!)

*** - It turns out that while making things talk over distance is pretty standard tech, miniaturizing it and making it work the way you want is not. I have started delving into the things available for this and found a few options. I have NOT played with any of them yet, but this one I found on Amazon might do the trick: https://www.amazon.com/Arduino-NRF24L01-2-4GHz-Wireless-Transceiver

I *could* assume the end consumer has a usable wifi network, but again, if we are talking about potential uses outside in a big yard or garden, their house-based wifi may not cut it. Also I want to be conscious of security so having my own send and receive function that does not rely on something external means that I don't expose anything outside of the devices themselves.

**** Something that keeps coming up for this project is that an Arduino is likely to be a much better option for running the sensors and sending the information to the central station (which could be the Raspberry Pi). The Arduino has a significantly lower power draw (A solar panel to run a single RPi for 24 hours a day would cost upwards of 150$ - not realistic for a distributed monitoring system!) and it can do the analog sensor readings natively which removes cost from the sensor package in the form of the MCP3008 chip I need to do analog conversions for the digital-only RPi. It is definitely something I will have to explore as I go into the next phase of the project. A very nice writeup on running a solar Raspberry Pi is here: http://www.voltaicsystems.com/blog/powering-a-raspberry-pi-from-solar-power/

The same site has a number of other write ups and important power consumption info for solar-based projects.

-- Check out the companion video to this blog post: On YouTube, here, along with the rest of the video series for this project. --

More Stories By Christopher Harrold

As an Agent of IT Transformation, I have over 20 years experience in the field. Started off as the IT Ops guy and followed the trends of the DevOps movement wherever I went. I want to shake up accepted ways of thinking and develop new models and designs that push the boundaries of technology and of the accepted status quo. There is no greater reward for me than seeing something that was once dismissed as "impossible" become the new normal, and I have been richly rewarded throughout my career with this result. In my last role as CTO at EMC Corporation, I was working tirelessly with a small group of engineers and product managers to build a market leading, innovative platform for data analytics. Combining best of breed storage, analytics and visualization solutions that enables the Data as a Service model for enterprise and mid sized companies globally.

@ThingsExpo Stories
In a recent survey, Sumo Logic surveyed 1,500 customers who employ cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). According to the survey, a quarter of the respondents have already deployed Docker containers and nearly as many (23 percent) are employing the AWS Lambda serverless computing framework. It’s clear: serverless is here to stay. The adoption does come with some needed changes, within both application development and operations. Tha...
In his Opening Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, John Considine, General Manager of IBM Cloud Infrastructure, will lead you through the exciting evolution of the cloud. He'll look at this major disruption from the perspective of technology, business models, and what this means for enterprises of all sizes. John Considine is General Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Services at IBM. In that role he is responsible for leading IBM’s public cloud infrastructure including strategy, development, and offering ...
As hybrid cloud becomes the de-facto standard mode of operation for most enterprises, new challenges arise on how to efficiently and economically share data across environments. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Dr. Allon Cohen, VP of Product at Elastifile, will explore new techniques and best practices that help enterprise IT benefit from the advantages of hybrid cloud environments by enabling data availability for both legacy enterprise and cloud-native mission critical applications. By rev...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ryobi Systems will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Ryobi Systems Co., Ltd., as an information service company, specialized in business support for local governments and medical industry. We are challenging to achive the precision farming with AI. For more information, visit http:...
Amazon is pursuing new markets and disrupting industries at an incredible pace. Almost every industry seems to be in its crosshairs. Companies and industries that once thought they were safe are now worried about being “Amazoned.”. The new watch word should be “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” In his session 21st Cloud Expo, Chris Kocher, a co-founder of Grey Heron, will address questions such as: What new areas is Amazon disrupting? How are they doing this? Where are they likely to go? What are th...
High-velocity engineering teams are applying not only continuous delivery processes, but also lessons in experimentation from established leaders like Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook. These companies have made experimentation a foundation for their release processes, allowing them to try out major feature releases and redesigns within smaller groups before making them broadly available. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Brian Lucas, Senior Staff Engineer at Optimizely, will discuss how by using...
In this strange new world where more and more power is drawn from business technology, companies are effectively straddling two paths on the road to innovation and transformation into digital enterprises. The first path is the heritage trail – with “legacy” technology forming the background. Here, extant technologies are transformed by core IT teams to provide more API-driven approaches. Legacy systems can restrict companies that are transitioning into digital enterprises. To truly become a lead...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Daiya Industry will exhibit at the Japanese Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Ruby Development Inc. builds new services in short period of time and provides a continuous support of those services based on Ruby on Rails. For more information, please visit https://github.com/RubyDevInc.
As businesses evolve, they need technology that is simple to help them succeed today and flexible enough to help them build for tomorrow. Chrome is fit for the workplace of the future — providing a secure, consistent user experience across a range of devices that can be used anywhere. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, will take a look at various options as to how ChromeOS can be leveraged to interact with people on the devices, and formats th...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Yuasa System will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Yuasa System is introducing a multi-purpose endurance testing system for flexible displays, OLED devices, flexible substrates, flat cables, and films in smartphones, wearables, automobiles, and healthcare.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Taica will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Taica manufacturers Alpha-GEL brand silicone components and materials, which maintain outstanding performance over a wide temperature range -40C to +200C. For more information, visit http://www.taica.co.jp/english/.
Organizations do not need a Big Data strategy; they need a business strategy that incorporates Big Data. Most organizations lack a road map for using Big Data to optimize key business processes, deliver a differentiated customer experience, or uncover new business opportunities. They do not understand what’s possible with respect to integrating Big Data into the business model.
Recently, REAN Cloud built a digital concierge for a North Carolina hospital that had observed that most patient call button questions were repetitive. In addition, the paper-based process used to measure patient health metrics was laborious, not in real-time and sometimes error-prone. In their session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sean Finnerty, Executive Director, Practice Lead, Health Care & Life Science at REAN Cloud, and Dr. S.P.T. Krishnan, Principal Architect at REAN Cloud, will discuss how they b...
Enterprises have taken advantage of IoT to achieve important revenue and cost advantages. What is less apparent is how incumbent enterprises operating at scale have, following success with IoT, built analytic, operations management and software development capabilities – ranging from autonomous vehicles to manageable robotics installations. They have embraced these capabilities as if they were Silicon Valley startups. As a result, many firms employ new business models that place enormous impor...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dasher Technologies will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Dasher Technologies, Inc. ® is a premier IT solution provider that delivers expert technical resources along with trusted account executives to architect and deliver complete IT solutions and services to help our clients execute their goals, plans and objectives. Since 1999, we'v...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MIRAI Inc. will exhibit at the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Pavilion at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MIRAI Inc. are IT consultants from the public sector whose mission is to solve social issues by technology and innovation and to create a meaningful future for people.
SYS-CON Events announced today that TidalScale, a leading provider of systems and services, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TidalScale has been involved in shaping the computing landscape. They've designed, developed and deployed some of the most important and successful systems and services in the history of the computing industry - internet, Ethernet, operating s...
SYS-CON Events announced today that TidalScale will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. TidalScale is the leading provider of Software-Defined Servers that bring flexibility to modern data centers by right-sizing servers on the fly to fit any data set or workload. TidalScale’s award-winning inverse hypervisor technology combines multiple commodity servers (including their ass...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM has been named “Diamond Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
Infoblox delivers Actionable Network Intelligence to enterprise, government, and service provider customers around the world. They are the industry leader in DNS, DHCP, and IP address management, the category known as DDI. We empower thousands of organizations to control and secure their networks from the core-enabling them to increase efficiency and visibility, improve customer service, and meet compliance requirements.